Friday, 20 August 2010
Review: The Radleys by Matt Haig
Publisher: Walker Canongate
Format: Large paperback
Released: July 5th, 2010
Grade rating: B
Meet the Radleys: Peter, Helen and their teenage kids Clara and Rowan. An everyday family who live in a pretty English village and juggle dysfunctional lives. So far, so normal. Except, as Peter and Helen know (but the kids have yet to find out), the Radleys happen to be a family of abstaining vampires. When one night Clara finds herself driven to commit a bloodthirsty act of violence, her parents need to explain a few things: why is their skin is so sensitive to light, why do they all find garlic so repulsive, and why has Clara's recent decision to go vegan had quite such an effect on her behaviour...? But when mysterious Uncle Will swoops into the village, he unleashes a host of shadowy truths and dark secrets that threaten to destroy the Radleys and the world around them.
The Radleys is darker than most YA vampire books I've read, which is thanks to the fact that it's a crossover title. Adults reading it probably won't even notice, though I think teenagers will see quite a significant change in tone, content and plot. Personally I liked the more mature nature of the book, but then I am a pretty hardcore fan of the undead.
For me, the high point of The Radleys is Matt Haig's incredibly unusual Radley family. There's teenagers Clara and Rowan, who don't realise they're vampires, and parents Helen and Peter who have been abstaining from human blood for a long time. The thirst and temptation is starting to get to them and, with the arrival of Peter's brother Will, long buried secrets are inevitably revealed. Each separate family member is fascinating in their own way, whether it's because of their very human struggles, or the way they deal with their newfound vampirism. Rowan is my favourite by far, and I really related to him (No, I don't have fangs... stay with me). He's a teenage boy who's far too sensitive for his peers, with more feelings and compassion than he's given credit for. I loved him.
Where it went wrong for me was around the time Will arrived. He's pivotal to the story and how everything unravels, but I just had a hard time liking him. I could quite happily have read about the four core members of the Radley family for the duration of the book, because alone they were captivating. The inclusion of Will changed the whole tone of the book for me, and though he did make it darker, I thought he took too much focus away from Clara and Rowan, whose stories I thought were so much more important.
The dark humour and irony present in The Radleys is something vampire fans will immediately recognise, especially when Peter has his bloody daydreams or their next door neighbours pop round for an unexpected visit. It's satirical yet subtle, and I appreciated Haig's obvious love of the genre he's writing in.
Overall, The Radleys is a vampire novel with a bit of a difference, and I think fans of fangs and horror will take something away from it. It's very well written, and even has some action thrown in for good measure. If you're looking for a vampire that isn't of the sparkly fall-in-love-with-me-now variety, I think this one's right up your street.